Mamak Malaysian Kitchen, Buford Highway

Kari Fish Head- curry fish head. (Beckysteinphotography.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
Kari Fish Head- curry fish head. (Beckysteinphotography.com)

Now, we have Mamak, a Malaysian restaurant inside a Buford Highway strip mall, newly arrived on the scene with a name that literally means "food stall." The 60 or so items on the menu seem almost like a survey of the various Indian, Chinese and native Malay flavors and preparations that make up the complex patois of the national cuisine. You will find satays, curries, rice plates, vegetables cooked in alluringly weird-smelling sambals amped up with shrimp paste, and so many kinds of noodles you won't know where to start.

If you're the kind of person who falls for international restaurants that proffer a new dining experience, prepare to crush hard on this place. I've been three times, and I want to return again and again, if only for the purposes of noodle taxonomy. But the food is reliably honest and soulful, generous in portion and seasoning. It can taste unfamiliar but never unfriendly.

The room, plain but pleasant in that bright lights-shiny tiles way of Buford Highway, has rainbow-striped walls and a cheerful chalkboard with a message that exhorts newcomers to learn about Malaysian cooking. It feels just right at lunch, when the room fills with folks who order extravagantly and drink sweet, milky "barley ice." Beverages are limited; you can't order any alcohol but, if you ask for water, the waitress will give you the choice of iced or warm.

I don't even know where to start with the food. Yes, I do. The roti canai --- a flaky pan-fried Indian flatbread that's simultaneously crisp and stretchy. You dip it in a small portion of coconut chicken curry, which tastes so forthright and warming that you promptly order a large serving of coconut chicken curry.

Mamak Malaysian Kitchen, 5150 Buford Highway, Doraville, http://www.mamak-kitchen.com/ Rating: two stars (very good)